The Irish at Barclay

The Benjamin O'Keefe Family
Childen All Born on Barclay Mountain
Back, l to r: Jeremiah, Benjamin and Henry
Middle, l to r: Benjamin, Sr. (holding Mary), Kathryn and Mary (O'Callaghan) O'Keefe
Seated in front is Timothy.Source: Daily Review, Towanda, PA, March 17, 2005

The Irish at Barkley Mountain

By Henry Farley

Daily Review
Towanda, PA
March 17, 2005
All rights reserved.

A look back at the Irish of Barclay Mountain

One of the most mysterious and intriguing places in Bradford County is Barclay Mountain. It is hard for people to believe that the mountain once had several major communities and that today there is little or no evidence of any of those thriving villages.

I am no stranger to Barclay, as my grandmother, Kathryn O'Keefe Maloney, was born in the town of Barclay in 1887. We spent a lot of time on the mountain as children, especially at Sunfish Pond where we would spend hours fishing for sunfish and bullheads (catfish). I can remember going with my mother and grandmother to the site of old Barclay to pick berries.

Unfortunately there is not much of written record on Barclay or any of the other towns on the mountain. Much of what we know has been handed down over the years.

The life of the communities on Barclay Mountain was short, but thousands of people can claim some connection to the mountain due to an ancestor making it their home for a period of time. Local history tells us that the town of Barclay had over three thousand residents at one time in its existence.

The township of Barclay was formed from Franklin in 1867. It was situated between the townships of Franklin on the north, Monroe and Overton on the east, LeRoy on the west and Overton on the south, being separated from the last named by Schrader creek. The township was named in honor of Robert Barclay of London, England, who in 1794, purchased 21,000 acres of land lying on what is now Barclay Mountain.

On the western part of the mountain the summit reaches an altitude of 2041 feet. The general slope is toward the southeast, drained by Coal Run and other small streams flowing into the Schrader. This region, a section of the Towanda range, known as the Barclay Mountains, generally was heavily timbered, even on the slopes, with pine, hemlock and hardwood.

Coal was accidentally discovered by Absalom Carr while hunting on the mountain in 1812 and the whole complexion of the rugged country changed. In the beginning, coal was brought down the mountain on sleds, but the demand quickly grew, different openings were made and then coal was hauled away in wagons to supply blacksmiths in Northern Pennsylvania and Southern New York.

No settlement was made in the township, however, until 1856, when upon the completion of the Barclay railroad **, the Barclay Coal Company took men and equipment to the mountain and began working the original mine. Growth from then on was comparatively rapid until 1875. When Barclay was at its best, it had more than 2000 residents with stores, shops, churches, schools and mills, and a spirit that made it a leader among the townships of the county.

There were five sections to the settlement, the largest was Barclay. The others, all close together, were Fall Creek, Graydon, Dublin and Foot of the Plane. Carbon Run, a little further away across the mountain, on the line between Barclay and LeRoy, also had several hundred inhabitants.

After Barclay and Carbon Run began to decline in the latter part of the century, a considerable settlement was established at Long Valley where mining operations were continued until 1909.

An article in the Elmira Advertiser dated February 8, 1882 gave the following description of Barclay:

"For wild picturesque, interesting scenery, there are few places that surpass the Barclay mining regions. In summer, when nature asserts its rights to dress, hill and vale, she is profuse in her dispensations to the mountainous region of Barclay. The town proper is situated on a plateau on the summit of the Barclay Mountains, about fifteen hundred feet higher than Towanda, although about fourteen miles from the latter place. In winter the mountain presents a weird appearance, being thickly wooded and snow capped between the hills, no sunshine until a late hour in the morning. It is therefore much colder than many surrounding places, although very healthy. The town is like all mining places, built up of cheap frame buildings, the residences of the miners. However they are all well arranged and make comfortable homes for the occupants. There is but one store in the town, and that a very large and prosperous one, their sales amounting to over one hundred thousand dollars annually.

The population of the village is about fourteen hundred, with but very little change during the past five years. All are miners or their families except officers of the mining company and the people of the store and the post master and school teachers, of the latter there are four, all of whom belong elsewhere. There are four schoolhouses with an average attendance of about three hundred pupils.

That the teachers are overworked is evident from the fact that one teacher, Miss Lyon, has charge of ninety-two pupils, a number that is very safe to assume cannot be properly cared for without a severe strain on the teacher. Therefore more teachers are necessary at Barclay. In going to the place it is necessary to take the Barclay railroad from Towanda, and ride to the foot of the plane, or if the visitor desires, he may go up the inclined plane on the front end of a coal "dummy," but on reaching the level a mile on the track must be walked before reaching the town. At the foot of the plane are the new shops of the railroad company, where there are some twenty-five men employed, making small repairs on the railroad company's property.

Mr. F. F. Lyon is the genial painstaking superintendent of the division, and right well are his duties performed. The mines, as are the interests of the railroad, are the leased property of the Erie Railway, and the producing capacity of the present force of miners is ten thousand tons a day, although they are working about two-thirds time at present."

As the mines grew, more laborers were needed, and as it was with the North Branch Canal and the railroad industry, the workers came from the British Isles and Europe. Many of the miners came from Ireland. They saw the opportunities that could be afforded them in America. Bradford County was no stranger to Irish laborers, as hundreds and hundreds Irish men had already settled in the area due to the work on the canal.

Barclay was in the Towanda parish of the Catholic Church and it was early in the pastorate of Rev. Patrick Toner (1863-1876) that Saint Patrick's Church was built at Barclay. It was a fine building for those days, with the usual high steeple and cross. There were two galleries, one at each end, and the altar was fixed beautifully. The church was also fitted with an organ.

In connection with the church, the Catholics (most of them Irish) at Barclay had a priest's house with a living room and a library. Usually the assistant pastor at Towanda went to Barclay on the train on Saturday night and held confessions there that evening. On Sunday he conducted Mass and taught the large Sunday school, returning to Towanda on the train Monday morning.

There is no sign of old Saint Patrick's church today. We know it was situated at the corner of the Barclay cemetery, which can still be found, although it is not in the best condition. The Bradford County Historical has in its collection two of the Stations of the Cross from St. Patrick's which were safely kept by the Sheehan family in Towanda. The last priest to record any marriages or baptisms at Barclay was Father Morrison. He left Towanda in 1899 so it is safe to assume that there was no activity at St. Patrick's Church after that time. Anne Sturzen, daughter of the Sheehan's, gave the stations to the museum several years ago.

A census of the Catholics in the Parish of SS. Peter and Paul in Towanda conducted in 1889 listed 94 families as members of St. Patrick's church with 427 total members. By 1899 when the parish conducted the next census, there were 20 families listed as members with a total of 113 total members. You can see by the dramatic reduction in membership in just 10 years that the lack of work sent many of the miners to other locales to find work.

Like so many of the Irish immigrants, some stayed on in the area and others moved on to find work. I have done genealogical research on the following:

The Mannix Brothers, Patrick, John and Matthew, were natives of Fleagle, County Clare, Ireland. The three brothers came to the United States in 1863, all eventually went to Barclay Mountain. John's family, while living on the mountain was involved in the work of the mines. John is listed on the census of 1880 as a track layer in the mines. His son, Michael, is listed as a driver in the mines, while his son, Edward, is listed as bailing water in the mines.

After leaving Barclay, John purchased a farm in Towanda Township and later a home in Towanda Borough. He died at the home of his daughter, Mrs. John Connolly, 311 West Lockhart Street in Sayre, Oct. 27, 1912.

John was married to Margaret Holland, probably in Ireland. Together they had seven children, Michael, Edward, Mary, Hanora, Bridget, John and Matthew. Their son Michael married Ellen Fitzpatrick of Barclay on March 2, 1886, they left Barclay when the mines flooded in 1890 and went to Bloss Township in Tioga County where Michael worked as a miner. The census lists them as having five children, Katie, Mary, Joanna, Thomas and Agatha. The family eventually moved to Elmira where there are descendants today.

Matthew Mannix and his wife, Susan Nealon, had four sons: Michael, who moved to Rochester, N.Y.; Thomas of New York City; and Matthew and Martin, who lived in Towanda. They also had a daughter, Minnie, who died a young woman.

Patrick Mannix and his wife, Anna McNamera, had seven children, Matthew, Margaret, Daniel, Catherine, Honora, Johanna and Ellen. Another daughter, Bridget, is listed on their gravestone at SS. Peter and Paul's Cemetery, North Towanda Township. The family of Patrick moved to Arnot, Pa. Patrick, John and Matthew are all buried in SS. Peter and Paul's Cemetery in North Towanda Township.

Patrick Sheehan, was born in County Kerry, Ireland on March 17, 1820. He left Ireland at a young age and lived in England for several years. It was during this time that he met and married Catherine O'Connell, who was also a native of Ireland. Patrick and Catherine and their three sons (all born in England) Edward, William and Stephen came to the Untied States in 1871. They settled in Barclay and stayed there until 1890. (The mines in Barclay flooded after the unusually snowy winter of 1889-90 and most of the workers left at that time).

After leaving Barclay, the family became involved in the wholesale liquor business on Bridge Street in Towanda. Edward stayed on in Towanda until 1921 when he moved to Waynesboro, Pa., where he accepted a position with the Flick Company, He was assistant shipping clerk and while assisting in the work in the warehouse, a heavy casting fell over pinning him to the floor. The casting was lifted from his body, but he lived for only a short time afterwards.

William Sheehan married Miss Mary Kinney of Towanda in September 3, 1891. He too was associated with his father and brothers in the wholesale liquor business, but died very suddenly March 2, 1894. He left his wife and a son, Paul. Stephen Sheehan left his father's business in1912 when he purchased the American Hotel in Towanda. Stephen married Anna Dobbins on November 3, 1891. The American Hotel had been owned previously by Anna's Aunt. Anna was the daughter of Thomas and Mary McMahon Dobbins who were natives of County Clare Ireland, Anna's mother, Mary, died October 20, 1884 and is buried in St. Patrick's cemetery, Barclay. Her grave stone is one of the few that survives today.

Mary Dobbins was the daughter of John and Margaret McMahon. Stephen Sheehan died February 7, 1922. His wife, Anna, took over the management of the hotel after his death. The business passed to their son, Joseph Sheehan, who in turn passed the building on to his daughter, Anne Sheehan Sturzen. The American Hotel building is still in the family today. Ann and David Sturzen and their sons are successful business people in Towanda to this day.

Redmond Roche, (pronounced Roke) was born in Ireland, the son of Redmond and Margaret Hickey Roche. He and his wife, Bridget Howard, left Ireland and settled first in Spring Water Valley in New York State. Redmond and his wife came to Barclay and settled at Foot of Plain in the early 1860s with their first two children, Patrick who became a Roman Catholic Priest and Margaret. The rest of their 11children, Anna, Maria, Bridget, Redmond, Kate, Michael, Winifred, Ellen and Bessie were born at Barclay. Patrick and Bridget Roche moved to Tioga County probably when the mines failed at Barclay. Bridget died there in 1898. Patrick died in Scranton in 1915. Redmond Roche is listed as a stone mason on his death certificate. Margaret and Anna were the only two of the children to stay in the area. Anna married Hugh Hogan at St. Patrick's Church, Barclay on January 1, 1877 they had 12 children. Descendants of this family are in the Athens, Sayre area of Bradford County. Margaret Roche married William Ronan January 1, 1878 at SS. Peter and Paul's Church, Towanda. William was a native of Ireland; he came to Bradford County in 1867 when 17 years of age.

Margaret and William lived on Mechanic Street in Towanda where they raised their seven children, James, Raymond, William, Ellen, Mary, Katherine and Margaret. Margaret entered the Sisters of Mercy and was for many years Principal of Saint Agnes High School in Towanda; her name in religion was Sister Mary Amadeus. Margaret Roche Ronan lived to be one hundred and two years old. She was honored not only on her birthday but once again in 1954 when the Franklin Fire Company of Towanda celebrated it's centennial. She was named "honorary queen" of the centennial and appeared at every important event held in connection with the centennial. It was William Ronan who in 1916 built the beautiful shrine of a grotto depicting Lourdes, located on the lawn between Saint Agnes School and SS. Peter and Paul's Rectory in Towanda. There are descendants of Mrs. Ronan living in Towanda today.

Benjamin and Mary O'Callaghan O'Keefe, Natives of Dromagh (pronounced dramuck) County Cork, Ireland. Benjamin was born January 15, 1853, the son of Jeremiah and Mary Cashman O'Keefe. Ben and his older brother Jeremiah immigrated to the U.S.A. in June of 1872 and went directly to Barclay to work the coal mines. Ben had been matched before he left Ireland to Mary O'Callaghan, a school teacher who was born March 10, 1856, also in Dromagh. She was the daughter of Jeremiah and Catherine Drew O'Callaghan. Ben returned to Ireland in 1881 and on July 21 of that year they were married. Ben and his wife then returned to Barclay, where they raised their family. They moved from one mining town to another: Dublin, Barclay, and Long Valley, until 1903 when they moved to Towanda. Benjamin worked as a gardener after moving from the mountain. Benjamin and Mary O'Keefe had six children, Jeremiah, who became a manager for the Harrington Company in Towanda; Benjamin, who was a talented furniture maker for the Frost Furniture Factory in Towanda; Kathryn, who before her marriage to Edward Maloney was a forelady for the Berlinger Silk Mill; Henry, who worked as a laborer in Towanda; Timothy, who was killed at age 15 while sledding on Chestnut street in Towanda; and Mary, who was with the telephone company for many years.

Some of the other Irish families of Barclay were: Higgins, Falsey, O'Rourke, Carroll, Dobbins, Dalton, O'Herron, Walsh, Murphy, Burns, McTigue, Daugherty, Holleran, Spellan, Sullivan, Sculley, and Fitzpatrick.

The Irish who came to Barclay Mountain worked hard doing the backbreaking work of coal mining, but no work was too hard for people who longed to own their own property and give their children the opportunities they never experienced.

I found it interesting to find that at the Guthrie Healthcare System in Sayre where I work that there are descendants of the Mannix Family, the Roche Family and the O'Keefe Family. Our families surely knew each other more than 100 years ago.

Edward A. Maloney and Kathryn C. O'Keefe
Wedding Photo
September 3, 1919
Standing are Mary T. O'Keefe and John Maloney. Kate was born at Barclay in March 1887 and Mary was born at Long Valley in March of 1893
Seated in front is Timothy.
Source: Daily Review, Towanda, PA, March 17, 2005

** Editor's Note: The following article was published in the May 29, 1902 edition of the Sullivan Review, Dushore, PA:

The Barclay Railroad is no more. At Williamsport on Saturday a meeting of stockholders of the Binghamton, Towanda & Western Railroad company was held for the purpose of voting on the proposition to merge that corporation with the Barclay railroad. A similar meeting of Barclay stockholders was held at the company's office in Philadelphia on Thursday for the same purpose. The merger proposition was adopted in both instances, and a new name has been chosen for the corporation. It is henceforth to be known as the Susquehanna & New York railroad company. No further details of the plans of the company could be obtained yesterday. The Barclay railroad was opened in 1857 from the Barclay mines to the canal basis in Towanda. For many years Barclay was one of the most celebrated mining towns in the country and was a most prosperous village. The entire township was owned by the railroad and mining companies. The coal is almost exhausted at present, so far as veins that can be profitably worked are concerned.

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